Big Questions

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Big Questions
658 pages; Drawn and Quarterly

Big Questions is just what a novel should be, if by novel we mean a very long story that creates an entire imaginary universe that involves us so deeply that we begin to think of ourselves as characters within it. The book is 585 pages long (not including appendixes), a number that might seem overwhelming in a traditional format. In this case, you'll finish in two days, not only because graphic novels contain a lot less text but also because you'll race through the first time, desperate to figure out the big stuff, only to turn around and reread it in order to figure out all the little stuff you missed.


The story takes place in an anonymous bucolic countryside (trees, fields, the occasional house) and follows a flock of birds, each with its own personality and philosophical struggles, from questioning the monotony of a seed diet to wondering about the true perils of snakes to considering "to what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?" Life goes on in this mannerthink, peck, think, peckuntil an undetonated bomb drops into their lives, a bomb that many (but not all) in the flock believe is a long, warm metal egg that may contain a savior baby bird. The hilarity and discord that result will astonish you, as will the pathos. Some of the most poignant scenes concern two humansan elderly caretaker and her mentally disabled grandson or sonwho are watched by the birds. Nilsen's artwork here needs no words. The endless labor of the old womanfirewood, dishes, scrub the floor, soak the dentures, weep in secretis drawn into brutal reality, as is her unexpected beauty. The six-panel homage to her brushing the long, young-looking hair you never knew she had (it's usually tied in a bun) is, like the rest of the book, an unforgettable visual and emotional experience.

— Leigh Newman